Rumors of Death

A beam of light, Anika bounces into the room early and happy, had such a great art class today. As I review requirements for the character sketch, their questions tell me I wasn’t clear on one point. Then I send them to their computers, allowing minutes of transition chatter before saying, softly, “we should be starting to work now,” and because they are who they are, this class falls quiet almost immediately, only the dry clicking of plastic keys punctuating the air.

In my email I find Joe Hutchison’s sampling of new Ted Kooser poems and remember that poetry festival long ago when Ted said, “I’ll trade you my book for yours.” I have that book still, signed to me. Scrolling quickly through the poems, which might be useful for an assignment, I keep one eye on the room, which seems to bubble up at the far end where Anika and Jazmin sit. Drew rises to see what they’re looking at as I read the lines:

…there wasn’t room for all her sorrow/she needed a plain that she could flood with grief

 Jazmin comes to sit beside me, asks if Anika can leave for a while, because she has just learned her grandmother died. “Stay with her, Jazmin,” I say and follow the girls out of the room, hug Anika while she sobs. She and Jazmin walk down the long empty hall, arms around each other.

I pace the room, loiter near the door. When the girls return a few minutes later Anika’s face is composed. They sit at their computers, though I doubt much work will be done. What fool texted this thirteen-year-old at school to tell her such news?

The room remains quiet. Two students whose sketches are already in my email use homemade flash cards to drill each other in whispers for the test next period. When I look at Anika again, tears run her cheeks.

“Would you like to go to counseling?” No, she would not. She’ll be fine. Part of her doesn’t believe it. Part of her knows the source of her text is unreliable. And so it will prove to be by the time she gets home.

By the time she gets home, the family member who sent the message will have been discovered to be lying and the family will be in a full-blown uproar that lasts late into the night. When I see her tomorrow, Anika will be red-eyed and ashen.

But at this moment in my class, she still believes it’s possible that her grandmother has died. The bell. Everyone hoists book-laden backpacks. Because they are who they are, three or four of them thank me as they go.

Before I pack up, I read the rest of that Kooser poem, how the woman whose husband was dying “placed one foot/and then the other on the future, and it held her up.”

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6 Responses to Rumors of Death

  1. Kathleen Cain says:

    Stunning. Absolutely.

  2. winnie says:

    wow, a powerful piece, Pat.You tell so much with so few perfectly chosen words. The pain of loss, especially for teens, having a good girl friend who is compassionate and supportive, a teacher who is attuned to the changing atmospheres in the room and who gently guides.
    This is really beautiful.

  3. I got a phone call in the middle of my World Literature class a week and a half ago. It was my daughter. I told her I was busy can I call you in a half hour she said yes…but I heard something in her voice, so excused myself and took my cell phone into the hallway. (My class was happily reading an entertaining little play about the French Resistance.)

    It turned out someone had died. A friend of hers, from her DSA class of 2010, in the circle of friends that have stayed close over the years. (At the funeral, I saw so many DSA kids…they may seldom have “class reunions,” but many of them keep up with each others’ extremely varied lives…)

    The youngster was Corin Chavez, one of the founders of The Black Actors’ Guild in Denver. He died unexpectedly. An aneurysm. The death of youngsters is always hard, but harder when it’s your child’s friend, and harder still when the youngster was Corin, always happy and generous and making others happy and generous too, somehow. (Westword has a good story about Corin.)

    I stopped crying with my daughter on the phone and went back into the classroom.

  4. Jana Clark says:

    Death and sorrow are all these things, but why would someone lie about it all? And via text. To a 13 year old at school?

  5. Bob Jaeger says:

    A beautiful piece, Pat. You pulled me right into the classroom, the situation.

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